Does compassion fatigue sound like something that happens to other people, but not you? Could you possibly be in denial? If so, you’re certainly not alone. Professionals in healthcare, be it “human” or veterinary, can easily suffer from denial.
“Denial is one of the best-developed coping reflexes in health care workers, particularly phsycians and nurses” ~ Anthony Barbato, M.D., in the foreword of the book Overcoming Secondary Stress in Medical and Nursing Practice.
If you still think, nope, not me, let me retell a tale that some of us have heard before, but makes a very good point when it comes to compassion fatigue…the boiling frog tale. Let’s say a frog needs to be cooked, to end up on someone’s dinner plate. If you drop the frog into a pan of boiling water, he’ll immediately sense danger and jump out. That water is hot!
But, if you put a frog in room temperature water, set the pan on the stove and turn on the heat, the frog will stay in the water as it slowly gets warmer and warmer. Before the frog even realizes what is happening, it has allowed itself to become boiled to death. It never reached a point where it’s tiny brain said, wow, I’m in danger here, let’s get out! He became acclimated to the increasing heat so well that he never sensed the danger.
This is how it often works with compassion fatigue. I would venture to say this is likely the way it ALWAYS happens with compassion fatigue…we don’t even realize we’re in danger until we feel boiled alive. This is when we start talking about being “burned out”, but as mentioned before in these posts, they technically are two different things. But alas, they are both dangerous, and we have to stop being so good at coping with the increased emotional stress so that we can identify when the temperature is too hot and we need to step back and cool off.
If you think about it, you probably have some internal red flags that signal when the heat is on. Perhaps you start snapping at your kids or your spouse, perhaps you reach the point where you need an emotional “wellness day” so you call in sick to work, or maybe your co-workers start getting on your nerves more than usual. Whatever triggers you to think, hey, it’s getting too hot in here, I need to find a way to cool off! Then go do something just for you, to recharge your batteries and refresh your perspective. The possibilities are endless, just go do something that you enjoy that you probably haven’t done in a really long time!